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Room to Grow

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Good morning and happy Monday! I know it’s been a little quiet around here lately. I took the last few months off to spend with my sweet family…especially my eldest daughter {photo above}, who graduated from secondary school in June and then recently left for a college on the west coast of America.

As you can imagine, the past few months have been filled with lots of emotion in our Irish home…and by that I mean way more than would normally be the case with one mother and two teenage daughters living in the same house!

With each passing day, we held on to one another a little bit tighter and squeezed as much fun out of life as we could. Here are a few snapshots of our recent memories; I’ll write about some of them in greater depth in the coming weeks.

First up, for mid-term break, we flew to Hawaii with dear friends to soak up some sunshine. This was our first trip to Kaua’i. The weather wasn’t much better than it was back in Ireland at the time, but we loved the relaxed feel of this gorgeous island.

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Then there was a sweet event at which my husband walked our daughter “down the aisle” so to speak. Oh my goodness…it was a vision of what her final “white dress” occasion might be like!

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Next up, a girls trip to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. If you haven’t visited Moab, do consider it for your bucket-list. From Ireland there is no direct flight to Salt Lake City, but don’t let that stop you. Utah has a number of state and national parks that are amazing {and if you are going that far, I suggest you check out Colorado too}. The Delicate Arch, under which we are standing, is an 18-meter, 60-foot-tall, freestanding natural arch. Hiking out to this point at sunset was just one of the highlights of this quick girls trip.

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Then there was a best-friend graduation trip to Rome. How cute are these two? They’ve been friends for twelve years!

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And the Debs…!

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And, finally, before we knew it…it was time to say goodbye.

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Letting go of this sweet girl wasn’t incredibly hard…it was just incredible AND hard. She was ready for her next adventure and we are happy she has more room to grow.

Through the tears and the hugs and the laughter and the heart-ache, we’ve had an amazing couple of months. Now each of us is adjusting to our “new normal”.

I’ll end today’s post with some wisdom passed along from both my grandmother and my mother-in-law. Their advice has served me well recently. Maybe they will be helpful to you too either now or some day. From Mama I learned, “a mother’s job is to let her children go”. Spoken like a true Irish mammy. From Gma El, I learned, “You GO Girl!

~ XoK

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credit:

* We love Utah as a destination: it’s clean, safe, and full of outdoor activities. Click here to go to the Visit Utah website.

** Moab, Utah is home to two national parks: Arches and Canyonlands. Click here to jump to Visit Moab’s official website

*** Go Hawaii’s official website was really helpful to us as we planned our holiday.

**** Did you see the gorgeous meringue cake I baked for my youngest daughter’s birthday party? You can learn to make it here.

***** And last, but not least, if you’re considering a holiday to Rome, check out Rome’s official website here.

Meringue Layered Cake with Whipped Cream and Mixed Berries

In our Irish home there’s only one type of cake that’s served at birthday celebrations:  meringue. Serve it “traditional-style” and you’re rolling the meringue around a luscious layer of cream and berries…serve it “contemporary-style” and you’re sandwiching mixed berries and cream between layers of crisp meringue. Either way, this cake is always delicious and always a show-stopper.

One point to clarify…for anyone that’s interested…is this: a meringue is not a pavlova. There is a difference. After hotly debating this with someone recently, I did some research. Here are the facts:

A meringue is a simple and pure mixture of whisked egg whites and sugar. A crisp meringue is most usually a French meringue, where the egg whites are whisked and then caster sugar is incorporated. These meringues are baked at a low heat for a long period of time, whereby they are effectively “dried out” rather than “cooked”. A perfect Irish meringue is crisp on the outside, yet not as crisp as a French meringue, and chewy in the middle.

A pavlova, on the other hand, is a type of meringue, especially noted for its marshmallow-like centre. It is made with the addition of cornflour {cornstarch} and, frequently, vinegar.

In our home, meringue cake {roulade or layered} is nearly always made with raspberries, blackberries and strawberries…but it would be glorious with homemade lemon curd or, given the season that’s about to be, homemade wild elderberry curd! In the summer months, I am partial to substituting kiwi, pineapple and bananas for the usual berries…but my family disagree…they always prefer berries to anything else.

Whatever way you make it, I think you’re going to  this recipe!

~ XoK

Meringue Layer Cake

Serves 8

Ingredients

6 large egg whites

12oz sugar {caster}

500ml cream, whipped

1kilo mixed fruit, cut into bite-size pieces

Directions for Making Meringue

1. Preheat oven to 150°C/300°F. Line three baking trays with parchment paper and, using a pencil, draw one circle, 20cm/8-inch, on each piece of parchment paper. {I used a cake tin for this.} Flip the parchment paper over so the pencil circle is facing down towards the baking tray.

2. Beat the egg whites and half the sugar using an electric whisk until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining sugar, continuing to whisk until the meringue forms stiff peaks. To test: lift the beater out of the meringue and turn upside down. If the meringue peak holds its shape you are done.

3. Divide the meringue evenly between the three circles and, using an offset spatula, form a circular shape with a smooth top.

4. Bake meringues for 40- 45 minutes, or until dry to the touch. If your oven is not big enough to bake all three meringues at the same time or you don’t have a second oven, make a third of the recipe at a time and bake each layer individually. I have two ovens, so I bake two meringue layers in one and the third layer in the second oven. I keep a close eye on the oven with the two meringues: if they are not cooking evenly, I swap the shelves.

5. When they are done, remove the meringues from oven and cool completely on cooling racks.

Directions for Assembling

1. Very gently lift one meringue layer off of the parchment paper and place on a flat serving plate. Top with one-third the whipped cream, and sprinkle with one-third the fruit.

2. Repeat for second layer.

3. For the top layer, again gently lift the third meringue off of the parchment paper and place on the cake, cover with the last of the whipped cream and the last of the fruit. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 hours.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credit:

* It’s a bit of a needle in a haystack, but it’s so worth it: Darina Allen’a lemon curd recipe here.

** I worship at the feet of Yotam Ottolenghi’s meringues. Here is his devine recipe!

 

 

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Fresh Basil Pesto Recipe

My kitchen looks like a bomb hit it this morning! For some reason I got up and started baking and cooking with abandon. Truth is, I don’t even mind the mess…it’s been lovely to work away in the kitchen. 😉

When I was rooting through the fridge, pulling out ingredients, I noticed I had a few packets of basil sitting in the crisper. Not wanting them to go to waste, I decided to make homemade basil pesto. Summer is, after all, only just around the corner and this basil recipe is so incredibly delicious over chicken or with pasta or even swirled into soup {especially my Tomato and Irish Whiskey soup}.

This pesto is herby, nutty, and has just the right amount of garlic flavour. It can be whipped up in the same amount of time it takes you to boil a pot of pasta {Can I get a “Mama Mia!?”} and you can double the recipe and put some away in the deep freeze. Enjoy!

~XoK

Fresh Basil Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

44g/2 cups basil leaves

16oz/44g/2-handfuls pine nuts

4g/2-handfuls freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 clove garlic, peeled

9 tablespoons olive oil

sea salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Put the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan and garlic in a food processor or Vitamix {if you like your pesto silky smooth}.

2. Pour over 5 tablespoons olive oil and pulse in the food processor or mix on low in the Vitamix.

3. Drizzle in the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil.

4. Taste, season with salt and pepper, and add more pine nuts, garlic, or Parmesan until you are happy with the flavour. Add more olive oil if you prefer a runnier consistency.

 

5. If not using immediately, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle some olive oil over top or pour into a freezer bag, lay flat in your freezer, and use as needed.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credit:

* From the folks over at thekitchn.com, another idea for freezing homemade pesto

** If you’re interested in the history of pesto sauce, you can learn oodles here at thesplendidrecipes.com or here at saveur.com.

*** You can find tips for growing basil in the kitchen at thekitchn.com.

 

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Easy Roast Chicken Recipe

Who doesn’t love a roast chicken…am I right? Crispy, salty skin over tender, juicy meat. The aroma of home cooking wafting through the house. Tasty leftovers to use all week in sandwiches, soups, pastas and more.

Mastering a delicious roast chicken is not an art …it’s really too simple for that…which is one of the many reasons why I call this recipe Lazy Roast Chicken. It’s so easy to make you’re going to feel positively lazy!

This recipe literally takes no effort whatsoever and has only four ingredients…salt and pepper being two of them. You don’t have to lift the skin off the breast for butter or herbs. You don’t have to put a lemon or garlic into its cavity. You don’t have to tie up the legs with twine, tuck the wing tips under the body {which I still haven’t figured out how to do well}, and you don’t even have to baste the darn thing.

All you do is pre-heat the pan, rub the chicken body with olive oil, sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, pop it into the oven and you’re done. Once it’s in the oven, you are free to dilly dally, goof off, or just hang out.*

Roast Chicken in Oven Proof Frying Pan

And, when it’s done, you’ll notice that the chicken legs are slightly splayed {now doesn’t IT look lazy?}, the crispy skin is a gorgeous caramel colour, and the meat is juicy and delicious. I love to make this dish on a Sunday and use the leftovers in lots of different dishes throughout the week. Enjoy!

~XoK

Lazy Roast Chicken

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 fresh whole chicken, approximately 4 pounds, free range or organic if possible

2 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

1. Remove the chicken from the fridge 30 minutes before you want to cook it, to allow it to come up to room temperature.

2. Preheat the oven to 220ºC/450ºF and adjust the oven rack to the middle of the oven. Place a 12-inch oven safe frying pan on the rack and close the oven door.

3. Unwrap the chicken, remove the neck or giblets inside the cavity, if they are there, and pat dry the chicken with kitchen roll.**

4. Drizzle the chicken with olive oil and season well with sea salt and black pepper, then rub it in well over the entire bird with your hands.

5. Carefully, set the chicken in the preheated oven safe frying pan in the oven, breast-side up. Roast 30 minutes and then check that the thickest part of the chicken breast registers 48ºC/120ºF on an instant-read thermometer.

6. Once it does, turn off the oven and leave the chicken in the oven until the breasts register 74ºC/165ºF {about 30 minutes}. If you don’t have a thermometer, a visual clue is that all the juices that come from the chicken should run clear and not be pink.

7. Transfer the chicken to a carving board, cover with aluminium, and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Carve and serve with the juices from the pan.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credit:

* {all synonyms for “lazy”!}.

** Here’s a quick Q & A in Poultry Care:

Q. Do I need to rinse my bird when I get it home?

A. The advice not to wash a chickens is longstanding as food safety experts widely agree it raises the risk of spreading dangerous bacteria found on raw poultry all over the kitchen.

Q. Is raw poultry as dangerous as people say?

A. It’s always better to be safe than sorry…so, after working with raw chicken, turkey or other birds, always clean your cutting board, knife, sink, counter, hands or whatever has come in contact with the poultry well with hot soapy water. Then dry it well and, for safe measure, wipe down with a disinfecting wipe.

Q. What are those little white feather bits stuck in the skin and should I remove them?

A. The little “white feather bits” are called “pin feathers” and yes you should remove them. I’ve heard of people using a blow torch to fry the little suckers…but a good pair of kitchen tweezers should do the trick.

*** Supposedly, the purpose of trussing a bird is to keep the splayed legs from burning. But, in all my years of roasting a chicken or a turkey, I have never seen an untrussed chicken or turkey burn or cook unevenly.

**** If your oven has a convection setting, use it. Your oven will be more evenly heated throughout. The drawback is that you’ll need to reduce the temperature stated for the recipe a wee bit. This can take a bit of experimentation, as all ovens are different. If a recipe calls for 220ºC/425ºF, I will typically drop the temperature down to 200ºC/400ºF.

***** Here are two video links to see how the experts check if their chicken is fully cooked without using a digital thermometer: BBCgoodfood.com and Food52.com.

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One salmon taco on a bed of lettuce and cucumber

Fish tacos, that great meal of the Baja Peninsula, should really be an Irish “thing” too. We are, after all, surrounded by water and we have some of the most delicious fresh fish available to us year round.

In our Irish home we use salmon to make fish tacos because we really can’t get enough salmon in our diet, but haddock, cod, or any firm white fish would be equally nice. Served on warm tortillas, with a crunchy mixed salad slaw, a bed of cool guacamole, and a good squeeze of lime, these tacos are delicious. They’re also a good way to get someone, who might not normally like fish, to try it.

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And, did you know that Cinco de Mayo is this Saturday? All of the recipes below, double easily, making them a perfect main course to serve a hungry, festive, crowd. So turn up the Latin music, put the cervezas on ice, and enjoy!

~XoK

Roasted Salmon Tacos with Mixed Salad Slaw

Serves 8

Ingredients for the Mixed Salad Slaw

8oz/½-lb mixed lettuce leaves, finely shredded

½ seedless cucumber, unpeeled, halved lengthwise, seeds removed and very thinly sliced

2 sticks of celery, chopped

2oz/59ml/¼-cup good white wine vinegar

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions for the Mixed Salad Slaw

At least an hour before you plan to serve the tacos, toss the lettuce, cucumber, celery, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

Ingredients for Guacamole

2 ripe avocados

Juice of ½ lime

1 teaspoon finely chopped cilantro or parsley

2 tablespoons Garlicky Marinated Tomatoes or plain cherry tomatoes, chopped

Directions for Guacamole

1. In a small bowl, mash the avocado.  Stir in lime juice.

2. Add the cilantro or parsley and the Garlicky Marinated Tomatoes, stirring until just combined. Do not over stir.

3. Cover with cling film {plastic wrap}, making sure it touches the avocado and refrigerate.

Ingredients for Salmon

453g/16oz/1lb salmon

½ lime, juiced

olive oil

1 teaspoon of chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin,

½ teaspoon garlic powder

salt and pepper to taste

8 tortillas

Directions for Salmon and Tortillas

1. Pre-heat oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7. Place oven rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking tray with aluminium and top with a sheet of parchment paper.

2. Mix the chili powder, cumin and garlic powder in a small bowl and set aside.

3. Rinse the salmon, pat dry with kitchen roll(paper towel), and, if necessary, remove any bones.

4. Put the salmon fillets on the parchment paper, skin-side down, and squeeze lime juice over.

5. Pour over some olive oil and, with your hands, spread it on all sides of the fish.

6. Dust the fish with the mixed spices. Salt and pepper, as desired.

7. Roast in the oven for approximately 15 minutes or until the salmon is cooked all the way through. Roasting times will vary depending on your oven and the thickness of the salmon.

8. When it’s done, remove the fish from the baking tray and break it apart with a fork.

9. To warm the tortillas, wrap them in moist kitchen roll, pop them into the microwave for 30 seconds to one minute at full power. They should come out beautifully hot.

To Serve

1. Serve the fish on a platter with some lime wedges on the side.

2. Put the tortillas, wrapped in a cloth napkin, on a plate.

3. And bring both the fish and the tortillas to the table with a bowl of the crunchy salad slaw and the guacamole. Let each diner assemble his or her own tacos.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credit:

* Irish fish tales from Saveur.com

** If you prefer, you can substitute green and purple cabbage, thinly sliced, for the crunchy mixed salad.

*** If you want to get a jump start on the preparation, make the slaw and the guacamole the night before. If the guacamole turns brown on the top, carefully remove the brown bits and it will be lovely and green underneath.

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Oven Roasted Parmesan Brussels Sprouts

I don’t remember eating Brussels sprouts as a child. In fact, it wasn’t until I lived in Ireland, where my mother-in-law served them sautéed in soy sauce, that I first tried them. It was love at first bite!

Now I roast Brussels sprouts all the time. Good enough to be eaten straight from the oven like a snack…these are equally delicious at room temperature. What’s more, despite their diminutive size, Brussels sprouts are high in fibre, vitamins and minerals, they can trigger the liver to produce detoxifying enzymes, they have been shown to reduce blood sugar levels, and they may protect against cancer. One thing to note, if you’re taking a blood thinner like Warfarin, research has shown Brussels sprouts may lessen the drug’s effectiveness due to the Vitamin K in them.

The secret to getting a good carmelisation on the sprouts is roasting them in a single flat layer, making sure they don’t overlap.

And, finally, you can turn these lovely little super foods into an awesome vegetarian meal by tossing  them with arugula and lentils or bulgur wheat.

Roasted Parmesan Brussels Sprouts

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

2lb/906g Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed and halved length-wise

4 tablespoons olive oil

zest of a small lemon, plus 1 tablespoon of the juice

salt and pepper to taste

freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 220ºC/425ºF and set oven rack into the middle of the oven.

2. Place dry Brussels sprouts on a large baking tray.

3. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper, lemon juice, and grate the lemon zest over the tray {that way you get all the lovely oil from the lemon too} and mix with your hands until the Brussels sprouts are coated.

4. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes ~ the sprouts will begin to caramelize in places. Toss the sprouts and add freshly grated Parmesan to taste.

5. Continue roasting for another 15 minutes until the sprouts are tender.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credit:

* To read more about the health benefits of Brussels sprouts, visit Dr. Andrew Weil’s website here.

** A Mayo Clinic online article about Warfarin and foods to avoid may be read here.

*** And, if by chance Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables give you wind {gas}, you may find this article, also from Dr. Andrew Weil’s website, helpful!

 

 

Freshly made Sheet Pan Turmeric Meatballs

When life gets super busy, who has the time or the energy to stand in front of the hob and make dinner? Not me…and I’ll bet…not you either. Which is why I think, after you try this recipe, you’ll agree that these sheet pan meatballs are the bomb! Mix up six ingredients, roll them into little balls {or better yet…get the kids to do it!}, drop them onto a baking sheet, pop them in the oven…fifteen minutes later…you’re done. It really couldn’t be simpler.

In and Irish Home Sheet Pan Turmeric MeatballsReady for the oven: raw sheet pan meatballsFresh from the oven: Sheet Pan Meatballs

If you’re feeling particularly energetic and you want to fry them up…go for it…they’re great that way too. But I’m only going to offer this: when you put them into the oven there’s no grease splattered everywhere to clean up. Uh huh…I see the wheels of your mind clicking over!

These meatballs are delicious doused in a homemade spaghetti sauce {here’s mine}, but you could easily drop the into the kids’ macaroni n’ cheese, line them up in a bread roll with some homemade sriracha mayo, dot a frozen pizza with them, skewer them with cherry tomatoes, tiny mozzarella balls and basil leaves, really there’s just no end to their versatility.

~XoK

Sheet Pan Turmeric Meatballs

Makes 32 one-inch Meatballs

Ingredients

400g organic mince beef

1 free range egg

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon mixed Italian herbs

2 globes garlic, peeled and crushed

sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

olive oil

Directions

1. Heat oven to 200ºC/400ºF and place oven shelf in the middle of the oven.

2. Mix all the ingredients, except for the olive oil, in a medium sized bowl with your hands and form meat into 3cm/1-1/2″ size balls.

3. Lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil. Add the meatballs to the sheet pan and place in the middle of the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credit:

* To read up on the health benefits of turmeric, here’s an article from the bbcgoodfood.com website.

** Over at Smittenkitchen.com, Deb Perelman has a recipe for sheet pan meatballs with turmeric chickpeas that also looks yummy.

*** Did you know that in Italy there is no traditional dish there called Spaghetti and Meatballs? Tis true! “Meatballs in general have multiple creation stories all across the world from köttbullars in Sweden to the various köftes in Turkey. Yes, Italy has its version of meatballs called polpettes, but they differ from their American counterpart in multiple ways. They are primarily eaten as a meal itself (plain) or in soups and made with any meat from turkey to fish. Often, they are no bigger in size than golf balls; in the region of Abruzzo, they can be no bigger in size than marbles and called polpettines. But those large meatballs, doused in marinara over spaghetti are 100 percent American. So how did spaghetti and meatballs evolve from polpettes? The answer is similar to every ethnic cuisine that traveled to this country; immigrants had to make do with the ingredients they could find and afford.” To read more, please visit: www.smithsonianmag.com.

 

 

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